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A double cell at Menard Correctional Center
Justice Talk

The Best Reporting on Solitary Confinement

Brush up for our March 30th chat on solitary confinement by reading some of the most crucial journalism on the issue.

Today we published a story in partnership with NPR that looks at the practice of double-cell solitary — two inmates housed in one solitary cell for nearly 24 hours a day. Roughly 80 percent of federal prisoners in solitary are double-celled, and at least 18 states use this tactic, often to combat overcrowding.

We invite you to join us for an all-day online discussion on March 30 about both single- and double-cell solitary as part of our Justice Talk series with Digg. You’ll be able to ask Christie Thompson and Joseph Shapiro about how they reported their story on double-celling, but we’ll also examine questions about solitary confinement in general. Does it violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment? What other methods can prisons use to handle violent inmates? Are people in solitary really the “worst of the worst”?

Brush up by browsing our collection, below, of some of the best reporting on the issue. As we confirm guests for the chat, we’ll update this post with details. Stay tuned.

Update: Guests and Schedule For Tomorrow's Chat With Digg

Noon ET - Christie Thompson, The Marshall Project, and Joseph Shapiro, NPR, will take questions on their latest story on two people being placed in one solitary cell.

1 PM ET - Jean Cassella, Co-Director and Editor of Solitary Watch

2 PM ET - Alan Mills, Executive Director at Uptown People's Law Center

3 PM ET - Johnny Perez, Safe Reentry Advocate at the Urban Justice Center, who was imprisoned for thirteen years in New York facilities. He spent three collective years in solitary.

Stories for the Uninitiated

What Is Solitary Confinement, And What Are Its Effects? The Marshall Project and AJ+, May 2015

If you’re new to the topic of solitary confinement, start by watching this explainer.

23 hours a day. 7 days a week. In a room the size of a walk-in closet. This is the toll of solitary confinement, explained. Part of our series with AJ+

Posted by The Marshall Project on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hellhole, New Yorker, March 2009 Atul Gawande’s 2009 longread was one of the earliest to bring national attention to the issue of solitary confinement. In typical Gawande fashion, he weaves together science, history (Did you know the Supreme Court almost declared solitary unconstitutional in the late 1800s?), and personal accounts from P.O.W.s who were in solitary.

Solitary Nation, PBS Frontline, April 2014

The Maine Department of Corrections gave Frontline unprecedented access to its segregation wing for this hard-to-watch documentary. The result is a gripping portrait of men pushed over the edge and a system struggling to find solutions.

How To Get Out Of Solitary, One Step At a Time, The Marshall Project and The Atlantic, January 2016

Life Inside

Essays by people in prison and others who have experience with the criminal justice system

Before there was widespread, national scrutiny of solitary confinement, one prison in upstate Michigan tried to find a different way to deal with disruptive prisoners. Staff writer Maurice Chammah walks us through how a warden managed to reduce segregation *and *lower in-prison violence by creating a “step-down” program that gives inmates a chance to earn their way out of isolation.

Stories on Psychological Impacts

The Supermax Solution, The Village Voice, May 1999 In the late 1990s, the New York Department of Corrections came up with a novel idea: build an entire supermax prison of double cells to house disruptive inmates. With showers in the corners of the cell and recreation cages in the back, cellmates at Upstate Correctional Facility are almost never separate from one another. Read how two inmates went into a cell at Upstate, and only one came out alive.

Solitary Confinement, Punished For Life, New York Times, August 2015

Psychologist Craig Haney, PhD, researched prisoners in solitary, the results of which became the “first systematic look” at the psychological effects long-term segregation. In 1993, he interviewed a group in solitary at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. When he returned 20 years later, seven of those prisoners were still in the restricted housing. The interviews offer rare insight into what it’s like to spend decades in solitary.

From Solitary to the Streets, The Marshall Project and NPR, June 2015

What happens when someone goes straight from spending months or years in isolation to having complete freedom? After making such a jarring transition, many end up jobless, homeless, or back in prison.

The Deadly Consequences of Solitary With a Cellmate, The Marshall Project and NPR, March 2016

Solitary confinement is often thought of as one person in one cell. But partly due to overcrowding, prisons across the country often place two people together in small cells for nearly 24 hours a day. Inmates say such cells become pressure cookers, where the unrelenting presence of a stranger can erupt into violence, and sometimes, murder. As one put it, “being housed in solitary confinement with another person, unable to escape that person’s presence, habits, or tactics, is like wearing a corset made of nails and explosives, constantly.”

Stories From People Who Lived It

Voices From Solitary, Solitary Watch, ongoing

This single-subject site, run by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella, reports on every facet of solitary and is a source for anyone who wants to delve deeper into the issue. The site also features voices from people currently in insolation.

Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons. Mother Jones, December 2012

When journalist Shane Bauer faced a hearing to determine whether he would be placed in solitary in an Iranian prison, he was allowed a lawyer. When men in Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax in California, have such hearings, they aren’t allowed to have representation. Bauer’s examination of how segregation works at Pelican Bay — where prisoners spend an average of seven-and-a-half years in solitary — is full of striking comparisons.

The Box: Teens in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Jails, Prisons and Juvenile Halls), Center for Investigative Reporting, March 2014

When Ismael “Izzy” Nazario was 16, he was sent to Rikers Island. He spent a total of 300 days in solitary before he was convicted of a crime. His longest stretch was four straight months. As noted at the end of this Emmy-nominated animated documentary, part of CIR’s larger investigation into juveniles in solitary, Rikers no longer holds juveniles in solitary, and President Barack Obama has banned solitary for juveniles in federal prisons. However, as The Marshall Project has noted, this new policy applies to only 26 teenagers.